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Will New York’s Guidance Memo on Students with Disabilities Resulting from Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia Change Anything?

New York is making progress towards better dyslexia awareness, and the acknowledgment of science-based approaches to reading. That’s the good news! As a parent, though, what I want to know is will the guidance memo change anything. Will more teachers get trained? Will we get more effective services?

In August 2018, the Deputy Commissioner of The State Education Department sent out a guidance memo on Chapter 216 of the Laws of 2017: Students with Disabilities Resulting from Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia. The memo went out to the following stakeholders:

District Superintendents
Superintendents of Public Schools
Public School Administrators
Charter School Administrators
Superintendents of State-Operated and State-Supported Schools
Executive Directors of Approved Private Schools
Nonpublic School Administrators
Directors of Special Education
Directors of Pupil Personnel Services
Chairpersons of Committees on Special Education
Organizations, Parents, and Individuals Concerned with Special Education

In plain English, the purpose of the guidance memo is to inform school districts about the specific educational needs of students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. Furthermore, the memo confirms that these very explicit terms can be used for evaluations, eligibility determinations and drafting IEPs (Individualized Education Program).


Just look at the stakeholders. The memo is out!  Now that the good word is out when we start complaining that our kids aren’t learning to read, the services aren’t working, and the reading specialists and special education teachers can’t help our kids, there is an acknowledgment that dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia exist. This probably sounds meaningless, but it’s not. It’s the first step, and in landscape strife with emotions, conflict, and minimal good news, we can at least #SayDyslexiaNY. #SayDyslexiaNY #SayDyslexiaNY…and repeat it often.

Can NY Give My Kid Appropriate Instruction?

The guidance memo states that “…dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia do not imply that a student cannot read, write, or develop math skills. Students with these learning challenges can develop such skills given appropriate instruction, supports, and accommodations.”

The memo goes on to recommend targeted, research-based instruction.  For those of us in the choir, appropriate instruction for dyslexia is a systematic, explicit, multi-sensory approach to reading based on phonics as opposed to whole words. In a nutshell, an approach to reading that teaches how letters relate to sounds. This is the exact approach that our kids need, and it is great that New York is beginning to recognize this fact. *The phonics approach is further highlighted in the recent APM report “Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?”

The reality, though, is that our schools cannot readily provide all of our kids with the appropriate instruction, supports, and accommodations that will teach them to read. In all fairness, it’s a tall order.  Dyslexia is a broad reading issue that ranges from mild to profound, often accompanied with other conditions.  For kids who are mildly dyslexic, some of the more “common” solutions may be all that they need to give them the tools they need to learn to read.  These kids will learn to read with appropriate instruction because our schools can support the more prescriptive, research-based reading programs.

For kids with more moderate dyslexia and other coexisting issues, appropriate instruction, supports and accommodations will remain a challenge. Our schools in New York do not have the trained teachers or tutors to deliver the appropriate instruction, and districts are not easily persuaded to send kids who need a curricular approach to learn to the few specialized schools we have in New York.

Will Anything Change?

Despite the gloom, we have a guidance memo. More awareness that dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia exist will hopefully lead to more early screenings and earlier interventions. Perhaps the higher education institutions in New York will even get on board about teaching reading based on the latest science. Anything is possible especially if the K-12 school districts start to demand more from higher education.

For those of us who have kids with more complex learning profiles, not a lot will change.  I will continue to practice my elevator speech that describes our daughter’s unique learning profile in two minutes or less, and I won’t be alone.

New York is taking the first step in acknowledging that our kids have unique learning needs, but they need to take it to the next level. Lawmakers and administrators need to look beyond the surface and understand what all of our kids need in order to be successful, and how teachers and school districts can help. There are no easy answers. One thought is to weigh the long-term investment in more specialized teacher training over computerized reading intervention programs.

New York is acknowledging that dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia exist, and that is a great start, but it requires an analysis of the full range of issues that families with these learning issue are challenged with. I am still amazed at how many families in New York see homeschooling as the only solution, and I get it.

Where is New York Going?

It is very early on in New York’s journey towards dyslexia legislation, and the hope is that this is just the beginning.  Still, as a parent that is continuously navigating the education system to make sure that our daughter is getting the services that will help her, I really, really want something to grab onto. What does the guidance memo mean to us or individually, to our child’s services? Will anything change? In my opinion, the guidance memo is a phenomenal first step, but it is too early to tell if it will change anything.

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